Showing posts with label New Orleans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Orleans. Show all posts

02 June, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 11: The story of a beard (or, as socialized as I get)

I was a dog on a short chain /and now there’s no chain. - from "Barking" by Jim Harrison

The two most extreme changes in personal grooming I've ever made were precipitated by the need for a job.

20 years ago, I had long hair. I had really long hair. I was determined that I would always have long hair. At one point, in spite of the protests of an exceedingly attractive woman working in a temp agency office in Lexington, Kentucky, I refused to cut my hair to take a job in that office.

A few years later, living in New Orleans, I'd managed to find a job -- again through a temp agency -- as a dental office receptionist. Everyone there liked me and wanted to hire me on full time, but the big boss man wanted me to (at least) cut my hair.

Now, back in Lexington, it was a little easier to find work. Lexington, at the time, was ripe with monkey work* and it never took me long to find work after losing a job. In New Orleans at the turn of the Century, however -- prior to 9/11 and a few years before Hurricane Katrina -- it was much more difficult to find work. New Orleans is a glorious city to be in if you're poor... not because of the availability of work, but because it's easy to live cheap if you're a little savvy and pay attention. But I was down there to be close to my daughter**, who was five and entering her third Kindergarten in one year because her mother couldn't figure out where to go. I needed the job, and didn't have much of a margin to live if I lost the job. I also thought that maybe being a regular employee, while it paid a dollar less than I was making as a temp (true story) would provide long term stability and maybe allow me to save money and move out of the cock roach infested rooming house I was living in at the time.***

So it was, on one Sunday morning, I went down to Mr. Jack's Barber Shop and told old guy, who could only have been Jack, to cut my hair off. And he did.

And so it was, when I started working catering here in Louisville last October, I was told that I needed to trim my beard. So I did. But that wasn't enough. It came down from on high that I needed to trim it OFF, since the rich folks we typically served food to didn't like it. And there was some other nonsense about food and health standards, but mostly, I think, it was all about getting the monkey man to shave.

And so I did. Mostly. I've worn a goatee in the past, so it was nothing new. But it did not happen without some consternation. I liked my beard. I liked my beard in spite of the fact that there was a whole fashion scene that made having a beard damn near impossible. Ironic mustaches be damned. I just liked having facial hair.

An apple a day keeps the fascists away.
But I shaved because I needed the job. And even though I no longer have that job, I've refrained from growing it back. I find it helps with some of the freelance work I'm doing. But also, I realized after I shaved... just like I figured out after I cut off my hair... that having a beard or not did not actually change who I was. I'm still the same contrary baboon I was before.

But now, sometimes people don't see me coming. This, I think, could have some advantages.

*monkey job, n. Any hourly paying job that does not require specialized training... or one that the boss could simply get done by replacing a disgruntled human with a monkey at a cheaper rate (depending on the market price of bananas). - from The Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Desk Edition
** I was not the custodial parent.  I could have, legally, prevented my ex from leaving the state with The Kid, and I got no end of grief because I didn't. But I was, in a rare turn, trying to be nice. I got smarter later.
*** Never happened. I ended up moving back to Kentucky before I could move to better accommodations. 

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03 February, 2012

Tomorrow Today Forever

I think I'll wander down to New Orleans
and sit in the Saint Louis Basilica
to pray. All the mad prophets say
to know god, you must know him
by his silence.
                       But that is for another day.
Today, it is my only brother's birthday.
And I must remember to call him –
or at the very least, to write him a note.

I must remember to make the words
something meaningful, the way
brother's words are supposed to be.
I must remember, it might be a model

for future notes when there is no time
but all the good intention in the world.

When I go to the cathedral, I will sit
at the end of a pew, near the middle
on the left hand side, and I will bow
my head and close my eyes the way
they taught us in Sunday School
(Protestants don't genuflect; but maybe
I'll try.)
            I will ignore the tourists
and the picture snapping,
and the casual whispers.
With any luck, I will fade into the pew
rubbed in like the dirt the bible says
I am made of. And when I am gone
there will be no more wondering
and no more questions
about the existence of god
and no more tourists.

All that will remain is a dirt spot
and an anonymous poem.

22 January, 2009

Minnie the Moocher

Eddie, an old guy in one of the second floor rooms moved her in – just brought her home from the bar one night like a stray. She was a short, skinny woman with straight greasy dark hair and sallow, olive looking skin that, had she taken better care of herself, might have been lovely. Her eyes were large, round, and midnight black. Whenever she looked at me I felt uncomfortable. Like prey. I liked the old guy well enough. He was nice, a little goofy. Prone to drink. Some evenings when it was cool outside we’d sit on front stoop and share a bottle of cheap wine or drink a couple of 40’s and talk – about how expensive cigarettes were getting, about the government, or about how the Saints could never seem to catch a break. New Orleans offered plenty things for a couple of guys to sit and shoot the shit about, even if it was the man-sized roaches that strolled down the street at sunset like aristocrats. Eddie was a good guy who’d lived a long time in flop houses and homeless shelters, but had settled out after he was old enough to draw social security. “Not much money,” he told me once, “but it’s enough to keep me in this place. And in booze and cigarettes.”

But he was also lonely. I tried several times to make him feel better about it. It was a topic we spent entirely too many of our stoop sitting sessions on.

“There are plenty of girls around,” I told him. “Just ask.”

He scowled at me. “I don’ want no WHORE.”

“What?” I asked. “All I’m saying is, you can probably walk four blocks in any direction and find a little companionship. What’s wrong with that?”

He shook his head.

“You’re not looking for a girlfriend, are you?” Eddie was a nice guy… but he was also old enough to be my grandfather. And there weren’t many geriatric single women around aspiring to squeak by on a measly monthly check living in rooming house that had once been a prominent crack den— before it was closed down by the city and sold to a developer that slapped on a new coat of paint and started renting out rooms at $80 a week.

“Don’ want to be alone,” he said, all sullen. “Tired of being alone.”

Not long after that, he brought her home. She was much younger than him; I think she was younger than me. It wasn’t hard to see what the deal was; she carried most of what she owned in large bag of a purse. She probably wandered into whatever bar Eddie was in looking to turn a trick, saw Eddie and smelled blood. When he introduced her to me, his chest was all puffed out and he was standing straight as a telephone pole. He smiled a wide, semi-toothless smile that looked all wrong on his face. I shook her hand and watched Eddie follow her back to his room.

Once, I tried talking to him about her – to try and warn him – but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I got a right to be HAPPY,” he told me.

I didn’t push it. Anyway, I told myself. He seems happy enough.

That she borrowed things didn’t bother me at first. I try to be neighborly. Not only is it a nice thing to do, but you never know when you’ll need them to return the favor. A cup of sugar. A fork or a spoon. I gave her coffee. I lent her a few bucks here and there – though it took me a while to notice that she only asked right after I got paid. I never figured out how she knew, since I wasn’t an extravagant spender.

I learned the sound of her knock. It was a quiet knock. Quiet the way a hungry dog scratches on the back door. When she knocked, a knot formed in my stomach. There was a point where I wanted to tell her no – but there was Eddie to consider. Somebody had to be around for when she got into one of her moods and yelled at him. She even hit him a couple of times, though nothing ever came of it. He wasn’t going call the cops and he wouldn’t have forgiven me if I had. It got to the point where she was knocking on my door every other day, and on the days she didn’t, he did. “Taking time to cool off,” he always said.

“Yeah,” I’d say. “You don’t want to go and lose your temper.”

He never understood the tone; or if he did, he ignored it. We’d drink a little and he’d hobble back up the stairs to bed after she’d passed out.

The second to last time she knocked on my door, she wanted to borrow a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Those were her words, too. I didn’t want to get into exactly how one borrows a sandwich, or the fact that I had no interest in her returning it to me when she was finished. While I was getting out the bread, the peanut butter, and the jelly, she looked over at the milk crate that operated as my bookshelf.

“Do you like to read?” she asked, looking impressed.


“Oh!” She clapped her bony knobby hands together like a small child. “I like to read too! Can I borrow some books?” She didn’t ask so much as tell me as she was grabbing a couple of my books. Lending out books always made me nervous, and at that point I had very few because I didn’t want to worry about how I was going to move them around. I mumbled, “Sure,” while I made her two sandwiches. At least, I told myself, Eddie’ll get something to eat, too. She never returned anything she borrowed, even if it was something that COULD be returned. So I expected not to see my books again. But I didn’t like having her in my room, invading my space. I didn’t look at what she borrowed until after she left. She stayed away from the poetry – no surprise there. She took my copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet, which I had finished the previous week. The selection was odd. I assumed she picked Thompson because she had seen the movie (probably snuck into a theater), and I figured she nabbed De Quincey because it had opium in the title. I could only assume that she thought Genet would have pointers and tips to help her be a better mooch. I wasn’t happy about it, but it could have been worse.

Two days later she knocked on my door again with my copy of Genet in her hand. “Do you know what this book is about?” she asked me. I could tell by the sour expression that she’d gotten at least past the first 10 pages.

“Yeah,” I said. “Of course.”

She squinted at me. For a moment, I thought I could see her teeth glistening under the dim hallway light. “Oh.” Then she smiled again. “Can I borrow another?”

“Why don’t you finish the ones you have?” I answered, taking Genet out from between her fingers. She was holding it like a dirty diaper.

She shrugged. “Ok.” I thought she was going to turn to leave. She kept talking to me instead.

“Can I ask you somethin’?”


She pointed upstairs. “Eddie and I haven’t been getting along,” she began.

“No? Really?” I tossed the book on my bed and leaned against the doorframe, blocking her path into my room.

She nodded. “Yeah. I mean, he’s a nice guy… when he’s not drunk. But he’s always drunk.” She drew herself closer. “He gets MEAN” she whispered. “Sometimes he hits me. Makes me do… things….”

I didn’t interrupt.

“I just… I need to get away,” she said. “Can I move in here with you? I promise I’ll get a job and help pay rent.” She smiled in a come on kind of way that made me want to throw up. “I could maybe even …”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I answered, pulling away from her and getting ready to shut the door. “I know Eddie drinks, but I’ve also seen some of the bruises you leave on him. Where are yours?”

“Faggot!” She hissed at me. “I knew you were a fucking faggot. Reading faggot books about faggots! FAG. Cock Slurper…”

I just looked at her. I’m not gay, but I wasn’t going to lower myself by trying to prove it. She hissed at me some more and walked off, still spitting and hissing.

The week after that, she disappeared. Eddie was sad for a while, but eventually, he got over it. About a month later, we were sitting on the stoop one particularly comfortable evening. He was drinking Steele Reserve. I was drinking Mickey’s Malt Liquor. There was a slight breeze. There were a couple of street walkers across the way who looked like they were just getting started. Eddie looked over at me.

“You think I could get one of them girls to come upstairs with me?”

“Anything’s possible,” I answered.